With thoughtful, ethical cooking where sustainability is front and centre, My Grandma Ben is an eatery that proves that ethics needn’t take a backseat to flavour.
At some point in time we stopped caring and started consuming. Slowly but surely convenience took over commodity and the wasted food started to pile up right next to mounds of discarded plastic. Across industries, farmers struggle with supermarkets driving standards for the perfect fruit and vegetables, as consumers need their fruit bowls to look perfect before the apples wither and dry and are tossed out to be replaced by perfect pears. Twisted carrots once destined for the Sunday roast are now relegated to the back shelves and branded imperfect or ugly and sold for a third of the price. Fillet steak has become a mainstay on our dinner tables while lesser cuts have been deigned to pet mince, or worse.
But with realisation comes motivation. Knowing that 40 per cent of all food ends up in landfill has many of us shopping differently, cooking thoughtfully and eating considerately. The war on waste is gaining traction. And in the nick of time, too.
The community of stalls, shops and eateries at Plant 4 in Bowden seem to have one thing in common. They care. Words like sustainable, ethical, biodegradable, re-useable, re-claimable and recyclable are all prevalent on signage and menus.
One of these menus belongs to My Grandma Ben, inspired by a lady named Betty who lived by these resourceful and often frugal guidelines. There’s a message behind every dish, and when there’s not, there’s a reason for that, too. Almost everything is made in-house, with equal consideration given to maximising flavour while minimising waste. Another of Grandma’s mantras is to love thy neighbour and one of the few out-of-house exceptions on the menu is sourdough bread, made fresh every day by another Plant 4 resident, The Lost Loaf bakery.
The delicious crusty loaf is served first with a house-made duo of dips: skordalia and a chickpea and lentil smash infused with herbaceous flavour and a long-reaching kick of spice. Resembling a quenelle of mashed potato, the skordalia is delicious, garlicky and gone in 60 seconds. It’s a perfectly simple way to use snubbed spuds. (80,000 tons of local potatoes are wasted each year, simply for being ugly, a little misshapen, or slightly spotty.) The dips are also served with giant crunchy shards of lavosh made from spent grains courtesy of Pirate Life Brewery – an ingredient that would otherwise end up as stock feed or waste.
Carp rillette is another champion of sustainability. This usually overlooked pest of the Murray has been carefully and thoughtfully dissected and reimagined, blended with zingy capers and shallots. Sitting alongside is a taste of Grandma Ben’s pickled vegetables, a secret recipe that I’m dying to discover. Carrot ends (slightly twisted) and radishes (a little off-colour) are matched with cauliflower (in season) in a medley of zingy, crunchy bites that have us asking for seconds.
Another delicious starter is their stracciatella, a soft cheese, which is made using fresh cow’s milk and is topped with tomato, pickled garlic and basil. Piled high on more of that amazing sourdough, Grandma is onto a winner with this one.
It’s worth asking about the pie of the day, made using ingredients that are in season or in over-supply. Today’s is a melange of vegetables including chard, onion and potato wrapped in crispy spelt pastry. This is brimming with flavour and served with a side of salad and house-made onion jam that completes this tasty pastry sensation.
Next is a fabulous plate featuring Coorong mullet escabeche. Lightly pickled fillets with the skin on are served over salsa verde, leaning against two tasty, crispy hash browns and a side of daikon and carrot remoulade that offers a little more crunch and a lot more flavour.
You may notice that Grandma has been getting all of the attention, but there’s another who deserves most of the credit: MasterChef alumnus Jessie Spiby. Inspired by her Grandma’s philosophy and cooking, Spiby has spun her dreams of sustainability and ethical cooking into reality, as her team base their daily routine on thoughtfulness, and it shows in every dish.
In place of a traditional list of desserts, the kitchen dreams up cakes and sweets each day, again led by seasonality, or supply. But tempted by the baking mastery of that sourdough, we head across the marketplace to the shop front of The Lost Loaf. Baker and dessert queen Emma Shearer’s treats are in high demand, and here we greedily gobble up custard filled croissants and lemon curd tarts before departing Plant 4, utterly sated.
Grandma Ben loves her neighbours, and now we do too.
My Grandma Ben
Plant 4, 5 Third Street, Bowden
Hours: Wednesdays, 10am to 9pm; Thursdays, 10am to 3:30pm;
Fridays, 10am to 9pm; Saturdays, 8am to 3:30pm; Sundays, 9am to 3:30pm
Photography: Sia Duff